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Put Your Kids to Work Day

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

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Apr 27, 2006 5:58:00 AM

Since today is Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, Popular Mechanics has a funny and timely post on their blog.
But here at Popular Mechanics, we think there's something parents can do every day that will help their kids a lot more than parking them in the office conference room once a year: Instead of taking our kids to work, how about putting them to work?
I'm not that old, but I have to wonder how many upper-middle class kids today have the experience of doing real manual labor.

Growing up, I spent summers picking orders in a warehouse, driving a delivery van, and doing general contracting. I helped my father build a large part of the house we lived in from the foundation up. In high school I spent more than the legal number of hours for my age in the kitchen and behind the counter for a local pizzeria. All of this taught me various skills, some useful, others less so. If you want a recipe for 80 pounds of pizza dough, let me know. And even at the boarding school I attended, where many of my classmates were from the truly upper classes, all underclassmen were required to do dishwashing duty in the dining hall every month or so, an assignment hated worse than any test or paper. 

We talk a lot today about "working smart," but these jobs taught me about working hard, both mentally and physically. The tasks were often dull, occasionally gross, and rewarded persistence and discipline rather than intellectual cleverness. In short, they were pretty much the opposite of school. I was thinking about this the other day because I got an email from an old high school friend expressing shock and outrage at the fact that students are no longer required to wash dishes, because the school "felt there were other activities of more greater educational value." I suspect that translates into English as, "parents kept asking why they were paying $25,000 a year to have their sons and daughters wash dishes."

Well, I sent them a letter indicating that I could not disagree more. It is wonderful and amazing that those students today have the opportunity to go on field trips to the Amazon River to learn biology or hone their Spanish in Madrid, but looking back I realize that these jobs taught me a lot more about the world and work than an internship in my father's office would have. They also exposed me to a whole range of people who I would otherwise never have interacted with, except perhaps as a customer, and gave me a very serious dose of perspective on how fortunate I was.

What this has to do with recruiting!
It's understandable that someone recruiting college students would favor someone with internship experience in the field over someone who waited tables or did landscaping. But while people have their whole adult lives to learn their profession, these days the high school and college years are the only time they might work outside of their economic and social status. I believe that doing so taught me many rich life lessons about work and people and really expanded my perspective on things in ways that simply can't be bought with any amount of money.

When hiring college graduates, the focus should be on the potential of the person as a whole. If nothing else, seeing a steady history of "real jobs" on a student's resume tells me that this is a person who knows how to drag herself out of bed, show up, and deal with a situation where their needs don't come first. So before you count a 22-year-old out because they didn't do a three-month internship at Big Name Inc., ask them what they learned pushing a mop bucket. The answers may surprise you.